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Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012
Before the trip I was feeling a little nervous to go to another country that I never been before. I’ve only been in the US and Mexico, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I kept reminding myself that everything would go smoothly as long as I came prepared. I've traveled alone before and I’ve gone to a rural community in Puebla, Mexico about two years ago - so as long as I remembered to pack light, bring a flash light and bug spray, I should be off to a good start. It wasn’t until I got to the airport that I began to feel excited and so thankful my group and I were given this opportunity to visit our project location.
As soon as I arrived to my home-stay, I was a little anxious since I didn't think I was going to be staying with a family alone (the others were assigned to different homes) and my Spanish is not the greatest. But as soon as I walked in the door, Reina and Areli (the mother and daughter) graciously welcomed me. The father and the 2 brothers were a little quiet at first, but after I sat down, we all began to talk.
Although I have experienced my fair share of bucket showers during my Puebla trip, using a latrine was definitely a new thing for me. It seemed to be like a portable restroom, however, with more flies. It is also not as confined as a portable restroom, so other creepy crawlers can easily enter. And of course, a latrine doesn't move until the six foot hole is almost full. The first time I used the latrine was the evening I arrived. Reina guided me through the dark to find the seat and then closed the door to let me be. Since I couldn't really see anything, my first nervous impression of the latrine was to not sit on the seat unless I want to risk falling in. I realized the next day it is quite impossible since the seat opening is not wide enough.
After experiencing the life in Sabana Grande for four days and conducting oral surveys with about 10 families, I learned that this community is definitely in need of a better sanitation system more than a water distribution system. The good news is that the families do not have to walk far to pump water from the well to their homes. The bad news is that this community is limited to the amount of space for single pit latrines and of course the people of Sabana Grande would like to use a better form of a toilet. I really did appreciate the fact that the current volunteers and the organization Grupo Fenix are doing so much to keep the communities as sustainable as possible while trying to improve the standard of living. If we were to create a running tap to each home as we initially planned for our senior design project, Susan explained that it could potentially lead to the abuse of water, which many developed countries face today. Now, it is our main goal to design an improvement to the current sanitation system as well as develop a water resource recovery component to maintain the sustainability within this community.
"Wealth is not the good which we are trying to find, for it is only useful, i.e., it is a means to something else." -Aristotle
The people of Nicaragua do not have wealth in a monetary sense, but they have the means to acquire the ends which they seek. They work as a community to be self-sufficient, which is something the US lacks. Most go without internet, proper tools, and proper education of the things they would like to accomplish. But united, they are fearless. They are willing to risk failure because they have no other choice but to try. What they don't know or can't do is not an issue because they are willing to stumble until they have accomplished what they desire. From the time I first arrived in Managua to the time I left Sabana Grande, I have seen their strength, passion, and self-sufficiency. It is inspiring. I only hope I will have the courage to return to this beautiful place and be a part of adding to the "social wealth" that they already have so much of.
As I prepared to go to Nicaragua, I knew that I was going to a place where poverty was prevalent. However, the actual conditions were worse than I had originally imagined. The bus drive from Managua to Sabana Grande seemed to go on forever, but we finally arrived. As we got there I noticed that there were no lights, making it extremely difficult to walk because I could not see where I was going, or where I was stepping. The people there, on the other hand, were very used to it and were walking with ease through the darkness. After a couple minutes of walking, we had to separate as we each left with our host family. There were no paths, lots of rocks, and many areas that had eroded away because of the previous rainfall season which flooded the community. After what seemed to be a long time, we arrived at the house. I noticed that lighting in the house was very minimal. There were also no bathrooms; they use latrines instead. And in order to shower, I had to use cold water from a bucket.
As the week progressed we learned about the community and took down as much data as possible. We learned that the community of Sabana Grande wishes to become more modern. One of the biggest concerns of the community was a feeling of being technologically behind with their eco-friendly practices. For example, they make adobe houses using old building techniques that they find extremely outdated. This makes them feel like they are not keeping up with modern societies.
As our trip to Sabana Grande concluded and we headed back home, I pondered about our trip. I thought about the experience and the people there. The week went by really fast because we had a lot to do, and in a way I am glad that it went by so quickly because I am not used to their lifestyle. I feel foolish and selfish for not being able to adjust. I realized that sometimes, we don’t appreciate what we have readily available and take everything for granted. On a daily basis we are too busy to stop for a second and think about what we have. Here, we have light readily available, a nice sanitation system, and a warm shower while others live in complete darkness during the night, have to dig holes in the ground for fecal human waste, and have to take cold showers regardless of the temperature outside, among other things. The community of Sabana Grande is in need, and it is my hope that our team comes up with an appropriate and feasible design for this community. The trip to Nicaragua was an eye-opening experience and if all goes well, it would be wonderful to find funds and actually implement a successful design in the community.
It is always intimidating to go to a new country, especially for me since I have a minor phobia of flying. But before this trip, I was really nervous and contemplating whether or not I should go because I didn't know what to expect. This was my first time traveling alone in the sense that I wasn't traveling with any of my family members, and I always expect the worst. You only hear about the bad things about a country in Central America because that is the only thing that people see or hear from the media. In addition to that, people warned me to be careful, watch my wallet, to not wear any jewelry, and to try not to stand out. In the end, despite all of the negative things I heard, I put my faith in God that everything would turn out okay and left to Nicaragua with my group.
Upon arriving in Nicaragua, I couldn't help but notice that it looked a lot like Mexico, except poverty was more prominent in this country. While we were waiting for the bus that was going to take us to Sabana Grande, I noticed that many of the people were staring at us. Everywhere we walked people turned to look, but it was because we obviously didn't look like we were local. No matter where we went, I always tried to speak in Spanish because I felt a little strange speaking in English and also so people knew I could understand and speak Spanish as well. As we got on the bus, I was glad we were able to reserve some seats because a bus may have enough room for about 60 people, but many more get in and ride the bus for hours standing up. The bus is the main form of transportation for many people over there and it is not the most comfortable ride. It is usually very packed, it is sometimes difficult to get in and out at the stops, and people usually have to stand until a seat is available. For me it was not a pleasant experience being on the bus, but the people over there seemed satisfied and content to use this form of transportation.
Once we got to the community, we met the families that were going to host us for the week. They were very welcoming and showed us where we were going to sleep. The room was not very inviting; it had concrete walls, the beds had mosquito nets that covered them, and there were spiders and other insects on the wall. At first I was a little shocked because I’m not used to sleeping with so many insects surrounding me, but I learned to deal with it and accept what my living situation was going to be like for a week.
Many of women in Nicaragua have to make about 10-15 trips a day to bring buckets of water to use at their household. They have to use cold buckets of water to shower outside and in order to go to the bathroom, they have to use a latrine. Over here in the United States, we are privileged to have easy access to everyday necessities for example a shower, faucet, and a toilet. We take all of these things for granted because they come so easy to us; we don't have to do any work to receive them. But what we don't realize is how lucky we really are to live in a place like the United States because many people around the world do not have access to clean, potable water. And because we take our everyday necessities for granted, we tend to waste more of our natural resources. People here are more inclined to leave the water running, take long showers, and waste more food. While in Nicaragua, I was really careful on finishing everything that was served to me, because if I left anything on the plate, I would feel terrible because several people over there barely have food to eat. Most of us over here are very fortunate to be able to enjoy a meal every day and we shouldn't be wasteful; we should all appreciate what we have. This was a lesson that my dad has been trying to teach me for years because he came from a poor community in Mexico, and it didn't really hit me until I got back from Nicaragua. I wish people had the opportunity to visit a country like Nicaragua to open their eyes and be grateful for the things we have over here.
That whole week was an amazing experience that I would never forget. Everyone in the community was very kind and willing to help us on our project. Their way of life is very different from our way of life over here in the United States. They don't have much but they are okay with the essentials in life: food, water, and a family. I couldn't help but feel spoiled because it would be hard for me to adapt to their way of life. Since we went around the holidays, the family we stayed with decided to decorate a little bit, this year. The mom went to that main city to buy a strand of Christmas lights. Seeing the look on the little kids and the rest of the family when the lights were turned on was priceless; they were all in awe. I don't believe the kids were going to receive much for Christmas, but they seemed content with the simple decorations that went up and they appeared to put more importance on spending that time with the family than anything else. I felt spoiled at that moment because I remember in past years, I would ask for several presents during Christmas. This year I did not ask for anything because I felt like I already had everything: great family, great friends, I am currently attending a good school, food, water, and health. To me that is the definition of being wealthy.
Posted by Lizzie Mercado, Kyle Magazu, Hilda Garcia, and Agustine Perez |
Friday, Dec. 16, 2011
This was our last day in the community of Sabana Grande and it was time to say goodbye to our host families. We caught the 7:45am bus in Ocotal and began our 4 hour ride back to Managua to meet with the professor from the University Of Central America (UCA). Our team has been corresponding with Professor Mauricio Garcia since the beginning of Fall Quarter in hopes of learning more about the civil engineering side of Nicaragua. It was nice to finally meet him in person. He introduced us to another civil engineering lecturer, Jimmy Vanegas Salmeron. We scheduled the meeting to explain our project and experience in Sabana Grande. Both were very excited to hear of our intent to design an improvement to their current sanitation system and water resource recovery methods. We asked Jimmy if he had access to any plans and geotechnical data of the project area. He told us that he would try his best to get any kinds of records for us and that we should email him the coordinates we obtained during our trip. At the end of the meeting, we exchanged our contact information and gave our thanks. We returned back to our hotel and got our things ready for our flight back home the next morning.
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011
In the morning, the group headed out to Susan's home to go for a small hike up the solar mountain. As soon as we got there Susan further explained the construction projects around her home that Liz briefly went over on Monday. The men were working on constructing a bodega, solar kitchen, and a classroom. Each structure is built using sustainable, local materials and traditional building techniques, with a few modifications. The main difference between traditional structures and the newly built structure is the addition of carvings of beautiful pictures on the exterior.
The men were also finishing building their first, experimental double compost latrine. Each wall was made out of three different materials: straw, bamboo, and chicken wire in order to determine which material works best. The double pit compost latrine was also made aesthetically pleasing with carvings of their national bird and sunset on the walls of the latrine. The community enjoyed this aspect of the latrine and became much more excited, especially the women. It is unfortunate that most of the community still associates sustainability with poverty. For example, the community would love to have flush toilets in their homes, but they do not have the necessary resources to do so. On the other hand, most of us volunteers are trying find ways to improve their sanitation without heading in the direction of water abuse. With the help of aesthetics in these projects that which the community can take part in, slowly this mindset within the people has been changing. Keeping that in mind, we will try to incorporate aesthetics within our design as well.
After we finished touring Susan's home, we then began our hike as Susan explained their reforestation projects. To keep families from using wood as their heat source for cooking, some of the women in the community helped build several solar ovens. Susan had about 4 ovens behind her home and a few of the local women that have worked at the Solar Center have one solar oven at their homes as well. The best thing from our experience with the solar ovens was that they roasted beans of delicious coffee! Whenever we were offered a cup, our answer was always yes!
On our way up to the mountain, we saw that a family was building an additional house behind their home. They had recently finished building a church with steel C sections, adobe bricks, and metal decking for the roof. We were glad to see that this community has the skills to construct simple buildings, which we will keep in mind when creating our own design. After observing their construction in progress, our hike continued up the mountain. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to go up higher into the mountain since we had planned to visit the Mayor’s office in Totogalpa.
Since we had some trouble retrieving elevations with our own GPS, we hoped to gain any information or data that the government had for “El Projecto.” This could include construction drawings, soil properties, and topographic maps. Luckily, at the Mayor’s office, Susan was able to obtain electronic files of the housing plans of “El Projecto” onto her flash drive and later email to us. After we finished up our meeting in Totogalpa, sunset was approaching, so we all rushed back home to avoid walking through the darkness.
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011
After getting up early and eating breakfast with our families, our group reunited that morning at Reyna’s house. Upon arriving there we noticed that one of our group members looked rather sick. We suggested that she stay in for the day to rest up and get better because today was going to be more tedious than others. Soon after, the rest of the group walked outside into El Proyecto, a community of about 45 homes. Before coming to Nicaragua, we were able to obtain a GPS in order to get the coordinates of the community and the different elevations. We walked to the corner edge to of the community to start and we took coordinates and elevations every 10 feet. After walking for about 2 hours, we finished gathering data around the whole community. One thing we noticed when we were recording the elevations was that they varied greatly during different times of the day because the GPS uses a barometric reading. As the pressure changed throughout the day, so did our elevations that made our readings unreliable. Our coordinate readings were accurate enough in order to find a topographic map of the area that will give us more accurate elevations.
After lunch, we decided to continue our interviews with other families in the community. Since Susan was busy at this time, we would have to go on our own and knock on people’s doors to see if they were willing to answer some questions. The idea of this made us feel a little uneasy, because we didn't feel comfortable enough going door to door, in a sense we felt like we were intruding. After finding some courage, a team member stepped up and went door to door asking families if they would like to help us by answering some questions. After each family agreed to assist us, the two members that spoke Spanish would ask the questions and converse with the families. After interviewing several families, we decided to go to our homes early to get some rest.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
At around 8:30am we met up with Susan Kinne, as planned. We took the long route to the Solar Center in order for us to see the rest of the community. Upon arriving at the center, Julian, a volunteer from Canada, was there awaiting our arrival. We walked to the recently built restaurant at the Solar Center, which has a stove that is powered by biodigester. We then walked outside to see the where the biodigester was located while Julian explained how it worked. A biodigester is a system that takes in organic wastes to be digested by bacteria, where the byproducts are methane gas and a nutrient-rich liquid. The methane gas can be collected and used as fuel to cook with and the liquid can be used as fertilizer. At this moment, we all had a big interest in implementing this idea into our design. After seeing only latrines in this community, it was weird to actually see a flush toilet around this area. I jumped at the opportunity to use this flush toilet and I made my contribution to the biodigester. After being at the Solar Center for a while, we headed back to the community. We still had time to before lunch, so we decided to start interviewing the people in the community by asking them questions that would be crucial for our senior design project. We all felt comfortable having Susan there while we began our interviews because she knows everyone in the community and she was able to introduce us to several families. All of the families were very kind, welcoming and willing to help us. It was interesting to hear some of the answers they had to give and see how conscious they were about how much water they use and how sustainable they think their community is. All of the families we interviewed were very open to the ideas we had for our design for example having double compost latrines at each home as well as a communal flush toilet that will be next to the water pump. After retrieving a lot of useful information we had lunch at Reina’s house. After lunch we visited Ocotal, the nearest city to the community we were staying at. The purpose of our visit was to go to a hardware store to check what kind of materials are available in Nicaragua that we are going to use for this project. We also went to an internet café so that we could all check our emails and call relatives at home. The city of Ocotal was a beautiful place and it reminded me a lot of typical cities that you see in Mexico, so everything looked pretty familiar to me. After we were all done with what we needed to do, we headed back to the community to have dinner with the families that hosting us and get some rest for the upcoming day.